With the Nov. 6 general election fast approaching, candidates seeking to represent Howard County in the state legislature are still having trouble piquing voter interest in their races.
So hungry for voter attention are state House and Senate candidates this year that nearly half have decided that one of the best ways to court voters is to stand by a busy road and wave at rush-hour motorists.
"Government seems so removed from the people these days that it is good for people to see that you are a flesh and blood person," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, one of two Republicans seeking reelection in District 14B. "In many ways it is more personal than other forms of campaigning."
Several candidates said they worry that the lack of interest in the races is allowing their opponents to cloud debate on the issues.
William C. Bevan and Robert J. DiPietro, Democratic delegates who represent House District 13B in eastern Howard County and the northern tip of Prince George's County, called a news conference last Monday to remind voters that they have been endorsed by statewide teacher, environmental and abortion-rights groups.
DiPietro said the endorsements from the Maryland State Teachers Association, the Sierra Club and the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League show where the incumbents stand philosophically. "These organizations are the watchdogs," he said.
He also said the endorsements served to differentiate the Democrats from the Republicans in the race.
The incumbents would allow abortions along the guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Their Republican challengers, Martin G. Madden and John S. Morgan, favor limiting abortion to cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is in jeopardy. However, the Republicans would allow the matter to be decided by Maryland voters in a referendum.
Meanwhile, Madden and Morgan have highlighted other differences. Morgan said he will not support any tax increase.
Madden has pledged to oppose any increase in state income or sales taxes. He also said he would seek to keep property tax increases to no more than the rate of inflation each year.
The ping-pong debates are less pronounced in House District 14A, which covers central Howard County and the Laytonsville area of Montgomery County. There, the Republican and Democratic pairings have focused most of their rhetoric on party affiliation.
Democratic challengers Lloyd G. Knowles and James B. Kraft said the Republican incumbents, Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman, have been largely ineffective as legislators because they have been unwilling to work with the Democratic majority.
"Kittleman is more interested in his job as minority whip than representing his constituents," Kraft said.
The Republicans counter that they have worked with other legislators when it mattered, such as when they helped secure millions of dollars in school construction money for the county. And as Republicans, they said, they have not been afraid to question spending proposals by Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The Democratic majority in the state legislature "doesn't serve the people very well. It gives too much power away to the leadership," Kittleman said.
Knowles and Kraft said they would not be rubber-stamp legislators but rather would use their Democratic connections to better serve the district.
In the other House races, District 13A Del. Virginia M. Thomas (D) has hardly faced a challenge from James D. Morgan, who was drafted at the last minute by the GOP to contest the race. The district is primarily in the western half of Columbia. Thomas supports abortion rights; Morgan would restrict them.
In District 4B, which covers Carroll County and the western third of Howard, Democrat William Henley is hoping his support for abortion rights until the time the fetus can survive outside the womb will help carry him past Del. Donald B. Elliott (R). The incumbent co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill to limit abortions to cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is endangered.
Candidates running for the state Senate are working no less hard to draw distinctions between themselves and their opponents during the last weeks of the campaign.
Republican Christopher J. McCabe is quick to remind District 14 voters that he has been endorsed by environmental groups while his opponent, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D), received a poor environmental rating from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Kasemeyer, meanwhile, stresses that he is fully in favor of abortion rights while McCabe supports limiting women's right to an abortion to instances of rape and incest and when the life of the woman is in danger. McCabe would allow voters to decide the issue by referendum.
The 14th District covers central Howard County and the northeastern part of Montgomery County.
In the Senate's 13th District, Republican challenger Guy L. Harriman is pinning his hopes on convincing voters that he can manage the state's financial affairs better than Sen. Thomas M. Yeager (D). The 13th District covers eastern Howard and the northern end of Prince George's.
Harriman said he opposes raising the state's income tax. He also said he would limit legislators to 12 years in state office.
Yeager said the state is in fine financial shape, as evidenced by its AAA bond rating. The top rating allows the state to save millions of dollars in interest payments.
Both candidates support abortion rights in line with Roe v. Wade.
Howard County's third state senator, Charles H. Smelser (D), is running unopposed in the 4th District.